SAN DIEGO -- There are certain extraordinary performances that stamp athletes as All-Stars. For Ramon Hernandez, it happened again Saturday night when he grabbed a game that was slipping away from his Padres and made it his own, gift-wrapping a huge victory for his teammates. If he wasn't guiding rookie Tim Stauffer and two relievers through mine fields created by the White Sox offense, Hernandez was using the physical tools of his trade. In the top of the ninth inning at PETCO Park, with the Sox leading 1-0, Hernandez took a relay throw from shortstop Khalil Greene that was strong but a little off line and scrambled back to home to make a tag on a sliding Paul Konerko -- in the nick of time. It was a remarkably athletic play for a man in catching gear, but this is an uncommon athlete.
While that relay, starting with Ryan Klesko in left, stirred the crowd, it was something Hernandez did moments later that made the big gathering borderline delirious. Facing closer Dustin Hermanson, 15-for-15 in save situations at the time, Hernandez crushed a ball into the left-field seats to tie the game at 1. This ignited a flurry of hits, from Sean Burroughs to Robert Fick to Damian Jackson's game-winning single to left, that lifted a team that had been struggling offensively to a dramatic 2-1 decision over the club with baseball's best record. "He's been great for us all year," Padres manager Bruce Bochy said of Hernandez, a 2003 All-Star with the A's who came to San Diego in a deal involving Mark Kotsay after the '03 season. "Before the home run, there was the play at the plate -- and the game he caught. Ramon takes great pride in calling the game. He plays both side of the ball. "He did it all for us. That's an All-Star game, right there. He has a lot of those games." Hernandez, with 340,465 votes, has moved into fourth in the fans' All-Star balloting at catcher. In the lead is the Mets' Mike Piazza, followed by the Marlins' Paul Lo Duca and the Cubs' Michael Barrett. Hernandez's teammates are sold on their durable, consistent, highly productive receiver from Venezuela. "He does his homework," Stauffer said. "As a pitcher, I have complete confidence in him. I'll shake him off once or twice, but I'm usually right there with him, just throwing what he asks for. He always seems to want what I think is the right pitch for a situation. "He's the best catcher in the league, in my opinion." The numbers tell an impressive story. Hernandez leads all catchers in hits and RBIs and is among the leaders at his position in runs scored, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. He has started 56 games and leads all catchers in innings played. "All I care about is winning," Hernandez said. "I want to get to the World Series. I've been to the playoffs [with the A's], but I haven't been to a World Series. That's my motivation."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.